What do a smart jacket and pair of translation earbuds have in common with the Pussyhat and a self-driving bus? Well, none of the above are bestsellers (yet) but they are all being honoured as being at the forefront of design.
The Design Museum's annual Designs of the Year exhibition is about to open to the public and we got a sneak peek at the connected self and wearable tech projects that are up for the grand prize.
One of the interesting things is seeing how the Design Museum treats each piece – there was no dedicated tech section to the Beazley Designs of the Year exhibition.
Instead the Pilot earbuds and Snoo Smart Sleeper were in the Innovators exhibit, whereas Project Jacquard was in Fashion alongside what Nike and Kanye West are doing in clothing with the Nike Pro Hijab and Life of Pablo merch.
"One of the criteria we use is innovation – that could be technological or it could be a new ways of doing things," said curator Glenn Adamson.
While judges have been lamenting the fact they snubbed the original iPhone in its launch year, we don't get the impression that any consumer wearable tech will walk away with the top prize in January 2018. Adamson stressed the number of political design projects and entries: "many of the designers have responded to the political situation, design reacting to a sense of crisis."
The $350 Levi's Commuter Trucker Jacket for cyclists, which Hugh tried out recently, was on show but it's the underlying Jacquard technology from Google that impressed the judges. Jacquard was nominated in the Fashion category by Pamela Golbin, curator of the Musée des arts décoratifs, Paris.
In the blurb, Golbin pointed to how Jacquard could be used in future smart clothing thanks to its yarns "which combine thin metallic alloys with natural and synthetic materials... and are visually indistinguishable from the contemporary yarns." Jacquard also got bonus points for the fact that it can be woven on standard industrial looms – no small matter when we're talking about smart clothing going mainstream.
Pilot's translating earbuds
Google's Pixel Buds were too late for this year as the Designs of the Year nominees were announced in August. Representing the brave new world of real time translation hearables is Waverly Labs's Pilot earbuds and the app that does the real work.
According to designer Philip Michael Wolfson, who nominated Pilot, it's a "futuristic" wearable device "right out of Star Wars or an Isaac Asimov story." The curators also chose Pilot as one example of a crowdfunding success story (at least so far, shipping is delayed) alongside AIR-INK, which makes ink from air pollution. As they note in the exhibition, "a good piece of news from the past year in design is that the independent startup is a more viable proposition than ever."
Over in Digital, Pokémon Go by Niantic Labs – specifically Pikachu – was flying the flag for augmented reality. It's another case of tech launches outpacing esteemed competitions like this one – Apple's new ARKit platform gets the nod for mobile AR in our upcoming Awards.
Abraham Thomas, curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, makes reference to the controversies like distracted Go players being robbed or needing to be rescued but the Design Museum panel is hailing the location based AR app as a video game "that rescripts public space". Sounds like the future to us.
Smart Snoo Sleeper
Yves Béhar has had success in Designs of the Year before – in 2008 when the iPhone was robbed in fact – and this time he's back with Fuseproject and Happiest Baby's Smart Snoo Sleeper, which can auto rock your baby to sleep.
There was nothing else from the smart home sphere in the final 60 entries, unless you count BIG's modular typeface lighting system Alphabet of Light, which isn't connected. Red or Dead's Wayne Hemingway, who nominated the smart furniture in the Product category, praised the combination of "technology, wit and classic mid-century-inspired design" in the $1,160 Snoo smart crib.
Pierre Chareau in VR
It's always a kick to see something in real life then in VR, or vice versa. On show in fabric and via a Samsung Gear VR was a pair of beaut art deco, Pierre Chareau chairs. The VR experience, nominated in the Digital category, is one of four 360-degree scenes developed by the studio Diller Scofidio + Renfro and the Jewish Museum in New York. I was able to see the pieces in rooms recreated from archival research of the interior designer's house in Paris.
More and more designers, in various fields, are taking to virtual and mixed reality to replace models and drawings. This shows that the result can be something the public would enjoy too.
All 60 of the Beazley Designs of the Year nominees will be showcased at the Design Museum in Kensington, London from 18 October 2017 to 28 January 2018 with a public vote in October. Winners from each category – Product, Fashion, Architecture, Graphics, Transport and Digital – plus one overall winner will be picked next January by a panel of judges.
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